The recent events in Kenya, in which as yet an unknown number of shoppers have been summarily executed, demonstrates once again that the urge to kill in the name of religion and god is on the increase. When those shoppers who were identified by the fundamentalist al-Shabaab sect, as good Muslims were set free and others who were not executed, a situation reminiscent of the middle-ages was played out. That is to say that when the opportunity arose, armed groups belonging to one religious sect were visibly and openly intent on physically harming or eliminating those who in some way represented a different way of life – or in some cases just a different interpretation of religious ideology.
In the middle-ages fundamentalist Puritans persecuted and executed Catholic fundamentalists, whilst Catholic fundamentalists did the same to non-conforming communities, whether they were Cathars or Muslims. The systematic, imprisonment, torture and burning of all obvious heretics, including females specialising in folk medicine, preceded the more ambitious military invasions of foreign lands and conquest of wealth by Catholic, Islamic and Protestant elites. Killing in the name of God is as old as the invention of a monotheistic God. In all such cases, the tenets of the religious texts – which each religious denomination inherited from the ancient past – were utilised to justify, theft of land, resources and discriminating slaughter. In the 21st century, religious fundamentalism is once again on the increase and once again its tap-roots are to be found embodied in religious ideologies and their supposedly god-given patriarchal texts.
For groups of people to overcome any natural and socially reinforced inhibitions about systematically killing other human beings there needs to be a shared ideology – a higher cause – both to bind them together and which rationalises and justifies their inhuman practices. Angry, frustrated, oppressed, unemployed people etc. – of which under the present mode of production there are many – generally respond by one of the following; individual criminality, black economic activity, political activism or even suicide. They do not usually form armed groups and set about systematically torturing and assassinating others. Frustration, oppression, discrimination, injustice, unemployment and lack of opportunity are by themselves insufficient for such organised and orchestrated acts of savagery.
In addition, human beings are not born with such inclinations or self-justifying ideologies, these have to be socially learned and socially reinforced. The male-dominated religions, particularly the Abrahamic religions have had centuries to perfect the methods of convincing people of the existence of an invisible and all-powerful ‘male’ entity who authorises their elite existence and has provided textual guidance to this effect. This ideological saturation of the human intellect begins at childhood. The childhood trust of children for the adults in their lives is systematically abused as fantasy ‘stories’ (fairies, goblins, Father Xmas etc.) are asserted as being ‘true’ until most of these concoctions fall apart at the internally contradictory narrative seams. The exception to the ignominious collapse of this ubiquitous fantasy parade in childhood is with regard to God – and for good reason.
The ideology of a male God and god-given authority in hierarchical societies is extremely useful to the elites who govern societies and communities for they can and do use this ideology to support their patriarchal rule. Hence Aristocratic, political, military and religious elites have always had a vested interest in promoting and perpetuating such ancient and unscientific fictions. Their jobs depended upon it. Indeed, they still do! The 21st century jobs, status and actions of all the worlds elite rulers depend almost entirely upon the rest of us believing one version or other of these un-enlightened two-thousand year old fictional creations. Hence religion, politics and military might are everywhere hand in hand if not actually hand in glove.
Even so-called secular leaders in the west are keen to project – and be protected by – an image of their sincere (or insincere) belief in an unknowable, unseen, male super-being who wrote or dictated some ancient, cobbled together instructions for how communities should live and be governed. Regular attendance at church, chapel, cathedral, mosque, synagogue by ‘leaders’ of nations – before, during or after ordering wars or massacres – are publicised as visual indicators of their sincerity, reliability and acceptability. But this obscene charade only continues because much of the world’s population has not yet thrown off their initial child-like trust in these self-serving religious fictions delivered to them during their infancy and later kept alive by peer group habit and ‘official’ social pressure.
In this way all ‘believers’ unwittingly perpetuate the very ideological and textual foundations of a brutal form of patriarchy upon which the fundamentalists who shoot and kill in the name of god depend for their unity and justifications. To repeat what was mentioned briefly above. To get together with other like-minded individuals in order to systematically kill requires not just anger, frustration or injustice, but an existing and unifying ideology. And these pre-requisites come ready made in the form of religious ideology and the so-called sacred texts. Christian Fundamentalists and Christian Zionists, Jewish Zionists, and Islamic fundamentalists, who all in one way or another, support and/or fund the killing of those not belonging to their own sect – all use their supposedly god-given religious texts as foundations for their inhuman actions.
When pro-abortion doctors and feminist activists set up abortion clinics the Christian fundamentalists who kill have no compunction in killing those who operate them. Why? Because by reading their so-called ‘authorised’ scriptures they find passages which allow and justify such actions. When Jewish Zionists kill or order the mass killing of Palestinians, they are guided by their fully authorised scriptures which among numerous bloodthirsty verses states that god gave them the land on which Palestinians have lived for generations. When Islamists shoot schoolgirls wishing to be educated or others who wish to vaccinate children, they undoubtedly could quote the Qur’an or an appropriate Hadith to justify this or that action. All these fundamentalist activists are doing actions suggested and authorised by their antique scriptures.
When on Saturday 21st September 2013 the al-Shabaab fighters lined people up in the Nairobi Westgate Shopping Mall before letting them go or assassinating them there and then – you can be sure they had been previously guided by the groups religious leader or Imam. The fact that the questions they asked in order to decide how to process their victims unequivocally demonstrates the fact of their absolute religious motivation. The questions they asked were religious ones to establish whether the shoppers were Muslim or not. If it is true that one of the killers said; “We are not monsters” and “The Muslim faith is not a bad one.”, then they were merely expressing what many uncritical Muslims would also take for granted. Yet the teaching of this faith – as with Christianity and Judaism – has not eradicated the desire, the actual practice and textual justification for killing in the name of god.
For this reason I suggest it is inadequate and insufficient for believers to distance themselves from such acts yet not distance themselves from their respective ‘authorised’ histories and texts which clearly justify such acts. A climate of self-criticism and radical re-thinking of their religious beliefs needs to be encouraged among all ‘believers’ if the world is to progress, beyond the current degenerative slide into religious, tribal and sectarian violence. In order to encourage critical reflection and to avoid such a regression it is insufficient for those on the left to ‘tolerate’ religious belief in an ill-thought out effort at ‘political correctness’, or in some muddled ‘moral equivalence’ posture or simply in order to the gain electoral votes from constituents who are religious.
This is because ‘liberal’ do-gooding neutrality or even lukewarm support for such patriarchal religious belief systems, not only leaves open the door for a further erosion of women’s rights – bad enough in itself – but much else is at stake. Religious beliefs of this kind are not only antiquated, childish and mistaken but are extremely dangerous. They have been so in the past and are again proving to be so in the present.
The re-assertion of religious forms of governance is a retrograde step in the progress of humanity, which has become internationally co-operative in economic terms and needs to be so in social terms. Such dysfunctional beliefs need serious and sustained challenge from all humanist inspired activists. It needs to be recognised that a section of the new generation of activist youth have embraced Islamism rather than anti-capitalism. Their vision of the future is for servile women along with continued capitalist exploitation rather than of equal partners under a post-capitalist egalitarian system.
Only such a serious challenge can hope to erode the present hold of fundamentalist ideologies on growing numbers of the youth of today and safeguard future generations from this sectarian dead end. This is because many of the recruits to Islamic jihad are quite rightly disgusted with the capitalist/imperialist and state-capitalist (communist) modes of production but mistakenly seek a better life under a future Islamic caliphate. This is an imaginary project which is as unrealistic, self-defeating and inhumane as one desiring an apartheid Jews-only state stretching from the Euphrates to the Nile, or one requiring indifference to this world whilst awaiting some fictional ‘rapture’ and the supposed ’gathering’ of the Christian elect. A consistent onslaught against such fictional projections and sectarian violence is necessary as well as broad-based non-sectarian community self-defence measures.
For the immediate future, the material frustrations, inequalities and injustices which are now universal due to the universality of the capitalist mode of production will remain. These can only be eradicated by a revolutionary transformation of this now reactionary and self-destructive mode of production. However, an economic transformation of this scale and magnitude cannot come about in the 21st century unless a majority of humanity are able to elevate the status of their humanity above that of their present religious or party political beliefs.
The sloughing off or at least a significant reduction in the importance of reactionary religious and political ideologies, is a necessary part of the process facing humanity in order to move on and not to be driven backwards. This transcendence will be necessary in order to overthrow the capitalist mode of production and end its persistent and uncontrollable economic, political, military and ecological destruction. Meanwhile there is an ideological battle for revolutionary-humanists to attend to. Killing in any form is a practice devised by insecure elites, not by humane communities of equality and justice. Killing in the name of God belongs where it was first advocated two millennia ago and should now be relegated to the antique section of the dustbin of history.
Roy Ratcliffe (September 2013)